Asian people are _______________.
Black people are _______________.
White people are _______________.
Mexican people are _____________.
It’s word association, only more uncomfortable. What were the first words that came to mind? No, really.
Jewish people are ______________.
Christians are ____________.
Muslims are _____________.
Athiests are _____________.
It’s time to be honest with ourselves. You see, it seems to me that these days, people are more concerned with being right than being better, so they hide their prejudices behind a wall built from denial and sometimes outright lies.
Gay men are __________________.
Lesbians are __________________.
One of the strengths of the human brain is its ability to categorize and organize. To compare and contrast. And to make inferences and predictions. Prejudice and bias are built into how we think and socialize. And your biases will affect how you complete each sentence.
Women are ___________________.
Men are _____________________.
We all know the politically correct answers to each blank. We want those correct answers to be the first we think of. I get that. So take a moment and free yourself from the shame that comes with admitting your faults. Can you answer each blank honestly? Can you admit that there might be one or two at which you cringe, glad that you only answered them in your head?
Bottle feeding moms are ________________.
Breastfeeding moms are __________________.
As a middle class white girl who grew up in North Dallas, my own words for each blank have changed over the years based on my life experiences and people I have come to know. When my only experience with people from Mexico was in my small, white, suburban town? I would have filled in the blank with “poor” or “uneducated,” I think. After sharing an orchestra stage with many Mexican and Latin members for years, and playing under the direction of an amazing Maestro from Monterrey, my world view shifted. So much so that I felt very ashamed of my previously held prejudices. It’s hard to admit them, even now. I am still in touch with friends from my college days and I would hate for them to think that I ever assumed they were any less than the amazing people they are. Now? That blank would have to be filled with “family-centered,” after the trip I took in 2001, touring with my college orchestra in several Mexican cities. Maybe “cultured,” too.
French people are ______________________.
Americans are ________________________.
Indians are _______________________.
There were maybe 4 black students at my elementary school that I can remember. Total. And I don’t think I can tell you if I remember any at my high school. They were few and far between at my college. After moving to St. Louis a few years after graduating college, I worked for a major museum downtown, creating and presenting hands-on science curriculum for area schools. I used to drive an enormous van (that was painted like a dinosaur) into the heart of inner-city St. Louis at least once a week. I would drive past apartment buildings with crumbling outer walls, grocery stores with metal bars on the windows, and arrive at the school only to walk through 3 metal detectors on my way to a classroom. I have never felt more white in my life. And honestly? I think the word that would have filled in the blank for me on my first visit? Was “hostile.” Doing that job changed my life. I was greeted with curious faces and hugs from children I had never met before. We marveled over the chemical changes and the physics of air-powered rockets. They lit up as we discussed the planets and rocket designs. The teachers were welcoming and professional. In need of supplies, training, materials, and so much more, but passionate educators. I was so wrong.
People with diabetes are __________________.
The mentall ill are _____________________.
The overweight are _________________________.
Smokers are __________________________.
Being a part of the blogging community has afforded me the opportunity to meet people outside the suburban, New England bubble I currently reside in. And though I know that the connections I have made online – the people I know who are black, who are muslim, who are gay – don’t speak for the entire group that they belong in, it’s helped me get a glimpse of what their experiences as minorities in this country have been like. My friend A’Driane has been singled out repeatedly in the last year for being an African American woman living in a predominately white upperclass neighborhood. Her children have been marginalized and just last week, her oldest son asked her if their people were still slaves. Before our friendship, the affects of racism on the black community in this country weren’t really on my radar. I mean, I knew about it, but it was (and this is hard to admit) easy to go about my day without thinking of it.. But when it directly impacts someone you love – when it’s one of your best friends being treated as a second-class citizen – it changes the way you see the world.
Rich people are _________________________.
Poor people are _________________________.
The prejudice I carry the most shame about? Is an ignorant homophobia. I remember being about 10. And loving neon-colored sweaters. Big, bulky ones. It was the 80’s. For Christmas, I got a black sweater with a brightly colored rainbow stretching across the middle of the shirt. I loved it and wore it whenever it was clean. Then one day, a classmate told me, “you know that gay people wear rainbows, right?” I had no idea what gay meant. I had no idea what sex was at that age and my idea of love was a note left in a cubby hole that required a checkmark. And yet I remember distinctly being angry that “they” had taken rainbows. That I could no longer wear my favorite sweater. I don’t know that I can tell you what word would have filled in my blank when I was a child, but it wouldn’t have been good. I am so thankful that, since college, I have met and befriended enough LGBT people to have had my biases broken. From the neighbors who lived next to my parents, to members of my husband’s music fraternity in college, to the authors of stories written by friends online like Vikki of Up Popped a Fox, each person has taught me that someone’s sexual orientation does not define who they are. That gender and sex are not the same thing. That it is not something to judge, and that their relationships deserve the recognition and rights that those of straight relationships take for granted. I deeply regret the time I spent judging and misunderstanding a group of people because of a stigma imposed by my peers.
I am, by no means, prejudice-free. Noone is. But I’m becoming increasingly aware of mine and how they impact the decisions I make. Your biases don’t make you subhuman. They merely make you imperfect. They mean you are subject to social conditioning, as we all are. And until you are able to openly admit them to yourself? They’ll continue to shape your attitudes, words, and actions, unchecked.
And so I challenge you. Go back and fill in each blank. But do it mindfully and honestly. And then see where your answers take you.
Blatant racism is dangerous. But so is ignoring and denying the seemingly innocent biases we all live with every day. Only when we are all are striving to make the ending to each of those sentences above “PEOPLE,” will we stand a chance at real tolerance.
EDIT: There has been discussion of my choice of the word “tolerance” above. I’d hate for anyone to think I’m suggesting that we only “tolerate” those we disagree with. Instead, I’m using the word to mean define a bigotry-free world view. This definition on Wikipedia speaks to my intention.